Interview | Circa Tsuica | Now or Never

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The circus is coming to town! Well more accurately, fabulous French circus company Circa Tsuica will be setting up camp in The Lowry Plaza ahead of their new show Now or Never with the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford.

Watch the performers fly through the air, bounce around the big top and cycle on trick bikes all while belting out funky brass music!

First performance is Thursday 30th August and here at Opening Night we got the chance to talk to co-director and performer Tom Neal and workshop leader and performer Baptiste Bouquin to find out a little more about this spectacular show.

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First of all, what is Now or Never all about? What are you trying to achieve with the show?
Tom: Our first aim is to create a really great link between us and the audience – but also among the audience themselves. Everyone is individually welcomed and invited to share something to eat and drink. One way or another, we want everyone to become part of the show.

We perform a lot on bicycles because they are universal objects that everyone uses or sees on a daily basis. A bike is less abstract than a trapeze or teeterboard – though we perform on those too – and it’s great to show people just what can be done on one!

Live music, composed by Guillaume Dutrieux, is also very central in Now or Never. It’s not just as an accompaniment – we all play our instruments and do circus tricks at the same time. Blending the acrobatics and the music really enhances the way we reach the audience.

In the end what people usually remember is how close to us they feel – and that is reciprocal, we feel the same way too. This show is an ode to tolerance, sharing and living together in peace.

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The young musicians of the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford are performing with you in the show, how have you worked together?

Baptiste:  Before the Circus arrives, we have had two sessions where we rehearse the sections of the show that they will play with us. We help them with the usual musical parameters – rhythm, sound, playing together etc – but also with the specific skills that they will need to be part of the show. They’ll need to know all the music by heart so they can interact with the others, they will have to move on stage, they will have to be characters (for example, they’ll be guests in a wedding scene). Some of the bands are surprised that they need performance as well as music skills!

When the circus arrives, we do the dress rehearsals in the Big Top with all the team. We want the young musicians to really make the most of the whole experience, not just be focussed on notes or sheets of music.

Maybe that’s what we want to share with them, that music is huge and there are so many different ways to perform it. In Now or Never, it’s linked to circus, to a relationship with others, to joy and risk. It’s not just about playing notes – even if I would prefer them to play the right ones!

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Now or Never takes place in Circa Tsuica’s travelling Big Top rather than a theatre. What difference does that make for you as performers? And what about for the audience?

Tom: Performing in a circus ring is very, very different to performing on a stage. There is no ‘cheating’ in a ring, the audience is all around you and there is nowhere to hide. All the action is in the centre so the the focus is greater. For the audience, every point of view is unique and close-up. For us, it is a challenge because we have to make every perspective interesting. At the same time, we can really feel the closeness of the audience which is a great pleasure. The audience can see each other and we like to play with that in the show. We change people’s perspective, get people talking to each other while eating some crepes, we want everyone to feel that they are invited to a giant party.

Baptiste: When the audience arrives they expect to just go and find their seats but, actually, it’s already like a party, or the main square of a village. There’s a buffet right in the middle of the track, people are offered drinks by the artists, they are welcomed. It’s a very warm atmosphere, the opposite of the pomp and circumstance of some theatres.

How do you work together to set up the tent – and the camp around it which you will live in while you are in town?

Tom: Well, setting up the tent and everything inside takes us about a day. It is usually a collaboration between us and a group of local people provided by the venue. I am the tent master and I explain to the locals how things should be done. In our group everyone knows what to do so it’s quite organic. If the location allows it we then place the caravans in which we live all around the Big Top to recreate a tiny village. Before and after the show the audience is invited to walk along them to share a glimpse of what our lives can be, since in “real life”, back in France, we live in the same village (but in houses now) and run our company together collectively.

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How does daily life work while you are there? Who does the shopping, the cooking, the washing? Do the kids go to school?

Tom: We have a very long preparation day before the show, we need to prepare the food and drinks we offer to the audience, clean the stage, wash the costumes, check the props, instruments and the bicycles, warm up, rehearse the music and the circus and so on… We also have our own showers and laundry in a semi-trailer, we have a cook preparing nice meals, a nanny, a teacher, with a mini-circus-tent-school, in order to be as autonomous as possible, so when I say we’re recreating a real village it is not a joke…

Is it true that once the tent is up, that there will be music rehearsals during the day that passerbys can come along and watch and listen to?

Tom: Sure, we’re always happy to welcome people to have a peep when we rehearse, so come along if you hear noises in the Big Top…

Now or Never opens on Thursday 30 August and runs until Saturday 1 September tickets are available here.

Adults £16, Under 16’s £13 – Family tickets sold in 4’s (minimum 1 adult) £12.25

 

The Return of the Solider |Rehearsal Pics

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Rehearsal images have been released for The Return of the Soldier, the fourth in-house production of 2018 from the award-winning pairing of Joseph Houston and William Whelton, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, from Aria Entertainment. The successful trio who will be teaming up once again with producer Guy James.

The much anticipated musical, an adaptation of Rebecca West’s remarkable novella written at the end of World War One, with music by Charles Miller and a book & lyrics by Tim Sanders will open at the Ancoats venue on Thursday 6th September and run until Saturday 29th September before transferring to New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich from Monday 1st until Saturday 8th October.

The talented cast will bring this compelling story of war to a whole new generation. The cast of five is made up of Chris Jenkins (tick, tick…BOOM! and Billy Elliot the Musical) will play Christopher, Tessa Kadler (Pippin, Carousel) as Kitty, Marc Pickering (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Universal Pictures’ Les Misérables) as William/ Dr Anderson, Esme Sears (A Little Night Music, Parade) will play Jenny and Naomi Slights (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Mamma Mia!) takes on the role of Margaret.

Set in Harrow during the summer of 1916, The Return of the Soldier is an intensely bitter-sweet tale, dissecting the very different love of three women for one man. When Christopher returns from the front, shell-shocked and with memory loss, there are profound consequences for all three women and their love. In the end, only an extraordinary sacrifice will restore the fragile status quo.

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The Return of the Solder will be directed by Charlotte Westenra, musical direction by Daniel Jarvis, choreography by Matthew Cole, lighting design by Aaron J Dootson, sound design by Findlay Claydon, set and costume design by Simon Anthony Wells/Leah Sams with casting by Jane Deitch.

Tickets for The Return of the Soldier are available here.

 

From the Heart of Everton’s Badge To The Grand Old Lady

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Blue Park Theatre Company take to the Epstein theatre stage this week with a warm and witty trip down memory lane…or more accurately Goodison Park’s rich history.

The location is the Everton Lock-up on the peak of Everton Brow, Radio Merseyside are recording an interview promoting the anticipated move from Goodison Park to Bramley Moore Dock. Two die-hard Evertonian’s however aren’t quite in agreement with the proposed move and in an act of defiance barge into the Lock-Up and barricade themselves inside in protest.

Jim’s goal is to find Prince Rupert’s gold and use it to save his beloved Goodison Park while nephew Robbo seems happy to come along for the ride. What unfolds however is a remarkable journey through Everton FC’s history taking in some of its most memorable and interesting characters ranging from the mighty Dixie Dean (Joe Shipman), to the iconic Bessie Braddock (Keddy Sutton) and even the flamboyant Prince Rupert himself (Carl Cockram).

Writer Kenny O’Connell succeeds in delivering a hugely entertaining script, with poetry from Bobby Parry this is a rounded piece of theatre complete with bucket loads of Scouse wit as well as deeply moving and poignant moments. The tribute to the victims of Hillsborough which is sensitively and respectfully done via a soulful rendition of The Hollies, He Aint Heavy being particularly moving.

Paul Duckworth and John Burns as Uncle Jim and nephew Robbo head up the talented cast of colourful characters and bounce off each other brilliantly. Each ghost from the past, key figures in Everton’s history; offers further opportunity for laughs along with well constructed and enormously entertaining exchanges. The accompanying video footage from historic games in Everton FC’s incredible history adds gravity to the piece, showcasing rich memories and magical nights at Goodison Park.

There are witty one-liners a plenty, cleverly researched mentions of past players and former managers as well as cheeky opportunities for several laughs at the expense of various figures from the red neighbours across the park which draw huge approval from the many Blues in the audience.

This evening of nostalgia and good-natured comedy will appeal to not only fans of the Blues but football and comedy fans alike. Funny, feel-good & cleverly constructed.

From the Heart of Everton’s Badge To The Grand Old Lady is on at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre until Saturday 25th August tickets available here.

The Pride | Cast Announced

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‘It was the first time, when we were together; when we were embracing that I felt that I had a pride. A pride for the person I was.’

Ahead of starting rehearsals next month, Green Carnation Company has announced their cast for Alexi Kaye Campbell’s powerful debut production, The Pride which will open at Hope Mill Theatre on Tuesday 16th October.

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Simon Hallman plays Oliver, in the 1950s portrayed as a quietly confident gay writer paralleled by his modern day counterpart who is a self-destructive whirlwind of casual sex and witty one-liners. Gareth George plays Philip who in both time periods plays the object of Oliver’s affection, both as an adulterous husband in the 1950s and as his boyfriend in the modern day. Joanna Leese plays Sylvia, who in both time periods is fated to always introduce Oliver and Philip to each other, but longs for her own freedom and independence. Joining the trio is Alex Thompson whose multiple roles include a comic rent boy with a taste for dominance, a laddish sports editor and a psychiatrist.

Switching between alternate timelines of 1958 and 2008, The Pride follows a love triangle between three characters and the different routes their lives could take, dependent on the decade they were born in.

Deeply moving and with a razor sharp-wit, this debut piece from Alexi Kaye Campbell examines changing attitudes to sexuality, looking at intimacy, identity and the courage it takes to be who you really are, celebrating the ideals of gay pride and challenging ideas of shame and the worth we put on ourselves.

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Director Dan Jarvis says “As we move past the anniversary for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, the relevance of this phenomenal play seems more striking than ever. Whether they inhabit the 1950s or modern day, these characters are so human and identifiable and are all searching for a way out of loneliness. Their need to find a connection that allows them to feel pride in themselves is something we can all relate to.”

The production will also work with recent LIPA design graduates Frankie Gerrard and Joe Roberts to create a shifting, ethereal, colour-saturated production that pays homage to the subtly queer cinema of Todd Haynes and Tom Ford.

It is directed by North West Theatre Director Dan Jarvis, and produced by Associate director Dan Ellis.

The Pride runs at Hope Mill Theatre from Tue 16 – Sat 20 October tickets available here.

Gulliver’s Travels

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Gulliver’s Travels marks the Octagon theatre’s final production of their 50th Anniversary Season and does so in gigantic style.

Taking in several locations within Bolton’s beautiful Queen’s Park including the sunken garden, the amphitheatre and the lake, Gulliver (Michael Peavoy) and daughter Betty (Anne O’Riordan) take us on a magical adventure through the colourful land of Lilliput.

Jonathan Swift’s novel has been adapted by Satinder Chohan and Mike Kennedy ensuring Gulliver is Bolton through and through; desperate to please his daughter Betty, Gulliver’s tall tale soon lands him in trouble as his adventure takes on an unEGGspected turn!

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Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s creative direction sees audiences follow the action through various settings within the park making for a very unique and interactive theatrical experience. Lead cast members, Michael Peavoy, Anne O’Riordan, Alexander Bean and Marc Small do an excellent job of sharing their story far and wide so every audience member feels involved; with some great fun audience participation along the way, particularly during the celebrations at the Lilliputan Palace. The cast are also joined by a whole host of talented performers ranging from local children to community choirs to help give this ambitious project a real community feel.

This inspired production is without doubt a lot of fun, young and old will enjoy the adventure round the stunning settings within Queen’s Park with their bold colours and striking design. The Gulliver puppet, the largest puppet in the UK is a spectacular sight and will certainly wow audiences young and old.

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The cast are engaging and their exceptional storytelling skills really do make you feel part of the ride. The story is very stripped down and does lose a little momentum during the location changes, this would probably have less impact for smaller audiences but for last night’s large audience the time it took to manoeuvre between each scene impacted a little on the flow and pace of the piece. That said Gulliver’s Travels is an up-beat and vibrant adventure with the atmosphere soon returning once you’ve arrived at the next location.

Top Tip – With quite a lot of moving around the park during this outdoor production picnics/refreshments would be best enjoyed before the show or during the interval and forget the bulky camping chairs, a picnic blanket will be much easier to transport, you’re not in one location long enough to get uncomfortable so can move from scene to scene easier.

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The Octagon Theatre succeeds again in creating accessible and engaging theatre. Gulliver’s Travels although slight in story detail is a hugely entertaining production; there are egg wars, incredible feats of bravery and even a chance to sing the Lilliputian national anthem. A visually captivating piece and EGGstremely good fun for all the family!

Catch Gulliver’s Travels at Queen’s Park until Monday 27th August tickets available here.

Closets

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Written by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely, Closets is an emotive and colourfully courageous journey of self-discovery, strength and celebration.

It’s 1988 and 16 year old Henry (Sam Redford) is struggling to express freely who he is for fear of his bolshy Mum’s (Hayley Tamaddon) refusal to accept his sexuality. In a desperate bid to disappear and escape the daily battles Henry steps inside his closet, travelling forward in time to the very same bedroom 20 years later where he finds shy, tormented Ben (Lloyd Daniels). The year may be different but the difficulties are the same. So begins a coming-of-age journey of exploration as Hope Mill Theatre becomes the scene of the 1969 Stone Wall Riots, Ben’s school toilets and modern day Manchester as the boys travel through time experiencing life defining moments along the way.

Closets is a cleverly constructed, deeply emotive and heart-warmingly joyful piece of theatre. The story touches on many relatable themes such as bullying, suicide and first love as we are swept along on a rollercoaster on emotions. The lovingly crafted script focusses not only on challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community but examines changing attitudes across the years in an honest and relatable way.

Sam Retford is exceptional as Henry, hard to believe this is his musical debut; his performance is confident and assured, engaging the audience entirely. Complementing Retford perfectly is X-Factor’s Lloyd Daniels, as the quiet but tormented Ben whose heartfelt delivery of Neil Ely, Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Jack Bennetts lyrics packs an emotional punch.

Hayley Tammerdon shines as Henry’s Mum Susan, confused and angry she gives an honest & engaging portrayal of a mother who is ultimately scared of losing her son. Adding many delightful slices of humour is the sensational Sophie Ellicott, she brings genuine wit and laugh out loud joy to the production, her delivery of Protection is a real highlight of the show.

Special mention must also go to powerhouse Kim Tatum, her soulful delivery and witty one-lines add further depth and poignancy to the story.

Ashley M A Walsh’s score creates the perfect soundtrack to this relevant and thought-provoking journey through both hostile and happy times. The 13 original songs ranging from up beat pop numbers to contemporary ballads evoke the sounds of the 80’s perfectly. While Joseph Thomas perfectly lights William Whelton’s punchy choreography.

Closets strikes the perfect balance, delivering both humour and powerful drama, highs are beautifully woven into emotion lows ensuring the story is told with sensitivity and real heart. There is little to criticise here, a quickening up of a couple of scene changes and some tightening tweaks here and there would very quickly take this already brilliant show to the next level, but none of this affects your enjoyment of this uplifting piece of theatre in which the message of love and loving freely is strong, powerful and perfectly judged.

Closets is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Thursday 23rd August, tickets available here.

Madagascar

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Eve and Maisy Powell

Family favourite Madagascar burst onto our screens and incredible 13 years ago, it spawned several sequels and now takes the leap from screen to stage in an all-new Dreamworks musical adaptation.

For those who haven’t seen the film, Madagascar tells the story of four friends from New York’s Central Park Zoo, Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, Marty the Zebra and Melman the Giraffe. The four find themselves on a rather unexpected journey to the crazy world of King Julien’s Madagascar after Marty the Zebra’s dreams of living in the wild don’t quite go according to plan.

We sent out mini reviewers Eve (aged 10) and Maisy (age 7) to give us their verdict on this brand new Selladoor and Hartshorn-Hook Production.

Eve Powell

I absolutely loved the show, it was so colourful and so funny. The dancing was incredible, the cast really worked hard and at one point the animals even did the floss which was a big hit with everyone in the audience.

The adults in the audience enjoyed the show just as much as all the kids. All the characters were brilliant and so inventive but my favourite has to be King Julian who was just so funny. It’s a really, really fun show suitable for all ages.

Maisy Powell

I just loved all the animal costumes, they were brilliant, the songs were great and the dancing was really good too but my favourite thing about the show was how funny it was, my tummy was hurting at the end because I laughed so much especially at King Julian.

Out of all the costumes Melman the Giraffe was my favourite and I thought the penguins were really cute although they are a bit naughty. Children will really love this show and will laugh all the way through.

Madagascar without doubt won over our mini reviewers with its host of colourful characters who impress from the word go. Director Kirk Jameson makes full use of Max Humphries exceptional puppetry design ensuring even the youngest of children will be captivated by this visually engaging and totally charming piece of theatre, while choreography from Fabian Aloise makes certain that the anthem ‘I Like To Move It’ isn’t the only opportunity for the characters to throw some impressive shapes as they twist and twirl to George Noriega and Joel Someillan’s high energy soundtrack.

Matt Terry impresses as the charismatic Alex, he is clearly loving every moment of this his professional stage debut while Jo Parsons has the audience in the palm of his hand with his sensational performance as the brilliantly bonkers King Julien.

Kevin Del Aguila’s script is incredibly witty and keeps young and old entertained from start to finish, with an enormously talented cast, hugely impressive design and an important message of friendship at its heart Madagascar will without doubt leave a great big smile on your face, charming, feel-good family fun!

You can catch Madagascar at Manchester’s Palace theatre until Saturday 18th August tickets available here.